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Architecture, Like Religion, Has Transforming Power for Springdale Church

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.arkansasbusiness.com/article/90702/architecture-like-religion-has-transforming-power?page=all Monday, February 11, 2013 Architecture, Like Religion,
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      http://www.arkansasbusiness.com/article/90702/architecture-like-religion-has-transforming-power?page=all

      Monday, February 11, 2013
      Architecture, Like Religion, Has Transforming Power for Springdale Church

      Among the chief tenets of the Christian faith is the idea that believers
      can be transformed through a relationship with God. As is written in 2
      Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new
      creation; the old has gone. The new has come!”

      Father John Atchison and the congregation at St. Nicholas Antiochian
      Orthodox Christian Church in Springdale see the building where they
      worship as a metaphor for that transformative power. What was once a
      metal shop building has been reborn as an award-winning structure
      designed by renowned Fayetteville architect Marlon Blackwell.

      St. Nicholas opened off 48th Street in Springdale three years ago, but
      continues to earn recognition for its design. Blackwell, who heads the
      Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas, was
      recently given an Honor Award for Architecture, the highest recognition
      a project can earn from the American Institute of Architects.

      “This was just a plain old metal building, it wasn’t spectacular,”
      Atchison said. “It didn’t look like anything, but was transformed. The
      metaphor can easily become how we’re very plain and not very attractive
      and God makes us a temple.”

      The building’s transformation has not gone unnoticed by those in the
      architecture community. Blackwell has designed a number of award-winning
      projects, but few seem to have resonated the way his work at St.
      Nicholas has.

      Since it opened, the church has racked up eight awards, including
      Renovations Magazine Grand Award and AIA’s Small Projects Award in 2012.
      Blackwell, like Atchison, thinks the building has an impact because
      something as simple and seemingly unfit for a church as a metal shop
      building has been transformed.

      Plus, the project was completed with a small budget and with the
      traditions of the Orthodox Church in mind. Some traditions, like having
      the worship center face east, were easy to accommodate. Others presented
      more of a challenge.

      Orthodox churches traditionally include a dome and a recessed area in
      the ceiling that includes a portrait of Christ looking over the
      congregation as they worship. Adding a dome would have required cutting
      through the ceiling, something that could have compromised the structure
      and put the project way over its $400,000 budget.

      Contractor Don Lourie suggested repurposing a satellite dish to provide
      the look of a domed ceiling from inside the sanctuary. The dish —
      bartered in exchange for two cases of beer — was covered in plaster,
      inverted and, as it’s described on ArchDaily.com: “then inscribed with
      the image of the ‘pantocrator,’ the image of Christ rising as the sun in
      the east.”

      Other notable features of the church include: oak floor that was
      produced in Arkansas, a sky-lit tower with a red glass cross that is
      backlit at sunrise each day and a descending ceiling in the narthex (an
      element of architecture found in early Christian churches).

      There were elements of the design that Blackwell eventually had to
      abandon. Instead of paintings of the church’s icons, prints or decals
      are used. Blackwell had to design shelves to hold robes, candles and
      other instruments of worship, rather than building cabinets for them.

      It’s that simplicity — and the willingness to be a good steward of the
      church’s limited resources — that has helped earn the building recognition.

      “The project makes the most with the least, displaying deep resource
      efficiency as an integral part of its design ethos — something more
      architects should be thinking about and practicing,” one AIA juror noted
      when evaluating the church.

      Blackwell takes pride in the fact that limited resources could be turned
      into something internationally recognized for its beauty. It has, he
      said, inspired him to think about projects where he uses only repurposed
      materials.

      “Too often architecture is deemed for the elite, the rich and the
      powerful,” Blackwell said. “I think the architecture we try to do is for
      the everyday. It’s for everyone. I think this church is a way to
      demonstrate that and hopefully it’s an inspiration to others.”

      Atchison said the way the church is designed has been an inspiration to
      church members. Because it is a humble structure and intimate, it lends
      itself to the appropriate mindset for worship.

      St. Nicholas has seen a 30-percent increase in attendance since it
      opened. Part of that is attributed to the recognition the church has
      received, and Atchison said it also helps that there are limited
      distractions inside the sanctuary, which can accommodate up to 100
      people when a moveable wall is opened up into the fellowship hall.

      “I think it’s simple enough that people can relax,” Atchison said. “If
      you make it extremely elaborate it can be distracting. People who have
      come to church here tell us it’s interesting how people just come in and
      worship. That is the goal, after all: Get people to think about God and
      worship Him.”
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